Saturday, September 28, 2013

Stopped In the Name of the Law

High School Students Perform Lao Traditional Dance

Thursday night, Duang and I drove out to Ban Nong Han to attend a big party where her brother was performing.

It turned out the the party was for the retirement of a long time public employee for the Sub-District.

My brother-in-law and his group were not the only entertainment for the evening.  We were pleasantly surprised to see the local high school troupe, Ban Chiang Witthaya School Silipin Tai Puan, that we enjoyed at a previous retirement party in Udonthani on 13 Sept were also performing.

High School Cultural Band Performing
The high school students play traditional music using traditional instruments and perform traditional Lao dances while wearing traditional costumes.  Apparently the troupe helps to support itself by hiring out for private functions.  It is good to see that the unique aspects of Lao Loum culture are maintained and celebrated by the younger generations.

We arrived at the party location at 6:30 P.M., in time to see the entire performance of the Ban Chiang Witthaya School.

There were quite a few presentations and speeches before Duang's brother got to perform.  I was confused as to what was going on in regards to the retirement festivities.  I had a pretty good understanding of the man who had retired.  After people made a speech about him, he was presented with an envelope or a colorful wrapped box.  He then presented the envelope or box to the person who had just finished speaking. That confused me.  I asked Duang about it and she said the man who was retiring gave the gift to the person who had talked nice about him.  It seems that in honor of the person who is retiring, people bought a gift for the retiree to give to the big bosses.  Hmmm ... I wonder if many of my liberal progressive friends would approve of such a means of wealth redistribution or what their comments would be.  The retire did receive some gifts and actually got to keep them.  I was telling Duang that in America when people retire they get to keep all the gifts.  But then again in America, the bride and her pay for the vast majority of the wedding rather than here in Thailand where the groom pays for the wedding and the bride's family spend it.

Duang's brother'st was his typical great show.  In addition to Lon and the band, there were four dancers, a male performer and a female performer.  Two of the dancers I recognized from a previous show last year. One of them apparently remembered me, too.  When she saw me photographing her, she did a couple of her dance moves that I had appreciated so much last year.

One year later, still kicking and thrusting to the music
The people at the party were very friendly which was not all that surprising.  The Lao Loum people are very friendly and hospitable.  I was offered alcoholic drinks several times.  Each time, I thanked the person and explained to them in Thai and gestures that I do not drink beer or whiskey when I am driving because I am afraid of the police.  One man had some difficulty understanding and I had to explain to him three times.  It was not that I could not explain it properly or clearly - he was just so loaded that he could not understand why any one would refuse a free drink.  The others who heard and understood me, seemed to think that I was a little paranoid.

We left the party at 11:00 P.M. to return to our home roughly 30 minutes to the west.  As we drove along Highway 22, a four lane divided thoroughfare that links Udonthani to Sakon Nakhon, Duang remarked about how few cars were on the road.  It was a fairly easy drive back to Udonthani if I don't dwell on the man stopped on his bicycle on the left side of the lane I was driving in rather than in the breakdown lane. Fortunately he was wearing light colored pants that I saw just as I came upon him.  Duang did not see him until I passed him.  I am also not dwelling on the broken down motorbike on the left side of the lane that we were in.  In was a good night in that, on the way home, there were no vehicles driving the wrong way or motorbikes passing us on the wrong side or on both sides simultaneously.

About 1 km (1/2 mile) from our home where the Ring Road 216 intersects with the main road to Bangkok, Highway 2, we came upon a scene up ahead.  Duang who does not drive at night did not understand what it was. I, perhaps because I am paranoid, knew exactly what we were headed for - A police DUI checkpoint.

Being a child of the 1950s, we used to play cops and robbers with the highlight of our play being the "cops" yelling "Stop in the name of the law ... or I will shoot"  I don't ever want to get into that type of predicament here in Thailand or even back in the USA.  I always err on the side of caution and slow down and become prepared to pull over and stop. Often it is confusing because the Thai Police are often not that demonstrative or assertive with their hand or flashlight signals as to what their intentions for me are.

Thursday night there was no confusion.  There were two check stations in the road that had been narrowed down to a single lane at a point where there was no opportunity for a u-turn or any other turn to avoid the check point.  The car in front was flagged over to the first and I was flagged into the second.  I rolled down my window as one of the two policemen approached the truck. When he saw me he was surprised and said "Oh, falang." (Oh a foreigner).  I don't believe there was any ill intent in his remark.  I suspect it was more along the lines of "Oh a foreigner, this could get difficult if he is drunk"  He then said "Alcohol" and pointed a flashlight shaped device at me.  I had to blow at the device.  In about 5 seconds there was a beep and the policeman said "Varry gud"  I told him in Thai that "No problem.  I do not drink beer or whiskey.  I am afraid of the police.  Police love falang too much.  200 baht, 300 baht".  "200 baht, 300 baht" ($6+, $5 USD) refers to a practice where foreigners get stopped for "speeding", driving in the right hand lane rather the left hand lane other than passing, or some other minor infraction or perceived infraction but the foreigner can pay a 200 or 300 baht "fine" on the spot and continue on their way.  In six years it has happened to me four times but not in the past two years.  The policeman started laughing and wished us a good night and sent us on our way.  I have no complaints - the police were doing their job politely and respectfully along with a sense of humor.

If you flunk the alcohol on your breadth test, you are given a formal breathalyzer test on the spot.  If the tests or tests confirm that you are driving impaired, you will spend the night in jail, go to court the next morning and pay a fine depending how badly you failed the breathalyzer test.  The typical punishment is around 10,000 baht fine ($330 USD), perform 30 hours community service, and have your car confiscated for 6 months. This may seem rather lenient, but I still would not to spend a night in any Thai jail.  There is also a kicker - if you are caught a second time, any where in Thailand, you will go to jail for 6 months.

You might avoid the breathalyzer tests by paying a negotiated "fine", but once the breathalyzer test(s) are administered, everything is documented and recorded with extremely unlikely chance to avoid the justice system.

Duang and I returned home smiling and laughing about our experience.  I was reminded of an old saying from the 60s "Just because your paranoid doesn't mean you are not right"  Yes I may have been overly paranoid, but the other night it was wonderful approaching a checkpoint with complete confidence and without any panic.

I am a guest in Thailand, allowed to stay in the country for one year at which time I have to apply for a years extension.  I enjoy my life here too much to complicate or risk it by doing something that is illegal and even worse doing something wrong which I have complete control over.


  1. When I am offered Whisky lao, I say" thank you but Mai dee" whilst pointing to my stomach. As I smile and try to look regretful. Every one seems to relate to that.Works every time.

  2. Sounds like it works rather well for you. With the size of my stomach, they just might hand me to drinks instead! However I will give it a try the next time.